If you've been following our motherboard coverage for the past few years, you'll have noticed a lot of graphs with bars all about the same length. The inconvenient truth for mobo makers is that their products don't have a substantial impact on PC performance. A system's processor and graphics card are the real bottlenecks for modern applications, while the storage subsystem—specifically, whether it's solid-state—plays a role in determining overall responsiveness. Even motherboard I/O performance is relatively consistent from one product to the next, since the majority of ports stem from common platform hubs and a shallow pool of available peripheral chips.
Sometimes, there are exceptions to this general rule. The only way to suss them out is to test boards exhaustively, which we've done with the Z77N-WiFi. The resulting mountain of benchmark data tells us this board for the most part performs like its peers. We have a few pages of supporting graphs to back up that assertion, but you don't need to scroll through them all. First, the highlights.
We'll start with a quick confirmation. Whether you're encrypting, compressing, or encoding data, the Z77N-WiFi is about as fast as rival boards based on the same platform and accompanying components.
There's somewhat more variance between the boards in our gaming metrics, which combine a traditional FPS measure with a much more telling 99th percentile frame time. The Z77N-WiFi comes out ahead on both fronts, but only by modest margins.
We typically see bigger performance differences between motherboards in our boot time test. The results don't disappoint.
Well, they might for Gigabyte. The Z77N-WiFi cold boots into the OS slower than its rivals, although it still gets to the Start screen in less than 17 seconds. Unlike on the other boards, the firmware lacks an explicit "fast boot" option. It is possible to tweak the initialization of certain devices, but we couldn't speed up the boot process without sacrificing necessary features like boot-time USB and SATA support. There doesn't appear to be a way to control the time delay for the initial POST screen, which adds a few seconds to the boot process.
In our peripheral tests, the Z77N-WiFi produced few surprises. For the most part, the performance differences between it and the other Mini-ITX mobos were within single-digit percentages. The only exceptions arose versus the Asus and ASRock boards, which employ special software to speed USB transfers.
RoboBench, our multi-threaded file copy test, nicely highlights the higher transfer rate enabled by Asus' USAP Boost feature. ASRock's Turbo equivalent is less effective, and it has some stability issues that need to be worked out. Even without turbo-charged software, though, the Z77N-WiFi's USB performance is hardly slow.
Does motherboard power consumption play out like performance?
Mostly, but the Z77N-WiFi is among a cluster of three boards with notably lower power consumption at idle and under our light video playback load. Crank the system up to full load, and the tables turn. Suddenly, the power-hungry Asus P8Z77-I Deluxe pulls the fewest watts at the wall socket, while the Gigabyte Z77N-WiFi draws the most.
The Z77N-WiFi appears to have less efficient power regulation circuitry than its peers, at least under load. We're only talking about a few watts, though; you're unlikely to notice the difference on your utility bill.
That's it for our performance highlights. If you'd like to peruse more detailed information on our system configurations and test results, please continue onto the next page. You can also skip straight to the conclusion for our final thoughts on the board.